While it wasn’t the offseason that many had hoped for, the Toronto Maple Leafs still managed to make significant changes to their roster. They restructured their goaltending and added quality depth to their bottom-six in the hopes of being more competitive.
While Rasmus Sandin’s contract remains on the to-do list, the Maple Leafs appear set for when training camp opens up.
Based on their offseason moves, there was a lot of criticism, concern and debate if they got any better. This season poses a lot of questions if they can actually move the needle in an already competitive Atlantic Division. With the start of the 2022-23 season inching closer, here are three burning questions for the Maple Leafs this season.
Will Murray and Samsonov Bring Consistency in Net?
Trading and taking a big gamble on Matt Murray while signing Ilya Samsonov that is still looking to find his own consistency in the NHL is definitely a decision that has raised some concern over the Maple Leafs goaltending situation. With this move, there’s no doubt general manager Kyle Dubas is putting his faith in this tandem, but it may cost him.
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Overall, Dubas is hoping that the Maple Leafs can for once find some consistency in net with two NHL caliber talents. But will it actually happen? It all depends on if Murray can get back to his form before he joined a rebuilding Ottawa Senators team and if Samsonov can provide a little consistency and be more composed in the crease.
Both goalies are going to be under a microscope this season. Murray did struggle to start last season but did manage to show some positives. Now, with a good team in front of him, the hope is that he can bounce back. Despite, playing minimal games, he had a .906 save percentage. At even strength, Murray did post a respectable .913 SV% and had a high danger save percentage of .820. Compared to Jack Campbell, it’s much better as his was .790.
Despite having a strong 52-22-8 record in his career, Samsonov’s numbers don’t jump off the page. He struggled last season as he had a .896 SV% and 3.02 goals against average. Watching him play, there was some concerns with his mobility as he was too aggressive at times and got out of position. If he’s able to modify his movement and not be as aggressive, he could very well be the goaltender that the Washington Capitals were high on when they drafted him 22nd overall in 2015.
The Maple Leafs have been looking to find a steady duo in net with this current core. Frederik Andersen has seen a revolving door of backups with little success behind him. When Jack Campbell took over as the starter, they brought in Petr Mrazek who didn’t provide any support whatsoever as he had no poise or confidence in net. Aside from Marc-Andre Fleury on the market, it was slim pickings to sign a high-caliber goaltender.
This might be the deepest combination in net we’ve seen in some time as both goalies will challenge each other to earn more minutes. In the past it was only one netminder getting majority of the starts. Having this balance, competition and if they can get back on track, it could be beneficial as they can bring the consistency needed in the crease.
Will the Bottom-Six be More Impactful?
Last season, the Maple Leafs’ depth became a critical factor throughout the season, though it went quiet during the playoffs with the Tampa Bay Lightning. I mentioned how before the series started, that their depth will need to be successful in order to win. Unfortunately, it wasn’t as they were outmatched by the Lightning.
Mikheyev scored twice in Game 3, but both were a result of an empty-net goal. Pierre Engvall went goalless, with three assists, two of which were on Mikheyev’s goals. The only one who seemed to have been the best depth player was David Kampf, who displayed his defensive capabilities and chipping in offensively with two key goals early in the series.
With Mikheyev gone, the Maple Leafs once again brought in cost effective players to try and replace what they had. In addition, they still have some key names that could be difference makers.
Kampf once again can be a factor and take a big step this season and lead the Maple Leafs third line. He had his most productive season in which he finished with 26 points while getting most of his starts in the defensive zone at a whopping 82.6% of the time in all situations. The ability to get offensive from defense really shined when he was on the ice with his smarts and ability to break plays and transition smoothly. His presence at five-on-five and on the penalty-kill was a big reason why the Maple Leafs were successful.
Calle Jarnkrok’s speed and secondary scoring is something that can be useful for the Maple Leafs third-line. He had strong underlying numbers last season and with his new contract and his offensive production in the past, it’s great value. He has the ability to play with pace and energy and a high compete level, something the bottom-six lacked at times last season.
Engvall also saw a career best in goals (15), assists (20) and points (35). After signing a one-year, $2 million contract to prove his worth, he’s looking to have a big season in terms of upping his production and make a push for a top-six role. When he was on the ice, the Maple Leafs had a Corsi For percentage of 54.44 and expected goals for percentage of 54.92 at 5-on-5. Losing Mikheyev’s speed and ability to break away from opponents on the penalty-kill could be a big loss for the Maple Leafs. However, Engvall has shown to provide that aspect to his game in the past to be effective and score some timely goals in that situation.
Signing Nicolas Aube-Kubel, Adam Gaudette and brining in Zach Aston-Reese on a PTO could all be game changers in the direction the team wants on the fourth line as they all bring something to the table. Aside from Jason Spezza, the fourth line looked slow and a step behind the competition, especially in the playoffs. The Maple Leafs are going with a new direction in hopes of that line being more competitive, energetic and quicker.
All three new additions brought all those qualities as well as consistency compared to what the Maple Leafs previously had. Gaudette has the size and shot, Aube-Kubel has the tenacity and speed to engage on the forecheck and Aston-Reese has the physicality, but can still keep up. Something that Kyle Clifford and Wayne Simmonds lacked last season.
All three players have had low offensive production– Aube-Kubel being the one with the most points last season with 23– if they’re able to maintain that production then this could be a difference maker for the Maple Leafs. This could make their bottom-six as impactful as it’s ever been.
Can the Maple Leafs Make It Past the First-Round?
Aside from making major changes in net and bringing more affordable depth, the Maple Leafs are running it back with their core players. After coming close to beating the Tampa Bay Lightning, it still wasn’t enough and it resulted in another early playoff exit.
Dubas is keeping his faith with his core players rather than jumping to making a rash decision. The stars on this team almost got the job done as they did come closer than ever to making it past the first round since 2003-04. Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, William Nylander, Morgan Rielly and John Tavares were productive as they were top-five in team scoring.
Matthews, Marner and Tavares expressed their frustration post game as they gave it all that they could and still couldn’t achieve victory. With another season coming up and another playoff loss to use as motivation, is this finally the season the Maple Leafs figure everything out and make it past the first round?
The Maple Leafs aren’t the first team to go through tough stretches. The Lightning, Colorado Avalanche and Washington Capitals have had their fair share of struggles before winning it all. They managed to figure it out and now it’s the Maple Leafs turn to do so.
These pressing questions are what’s going to define the Maple Leafs this season. While it’s too early to tell, things could pan out great with the revamped goaltending and depth in the hopes that they can make it past the first round of the playoffs. If not, then there might be even more tough questions and decisions down the line.
Peter is in his third year with The Hockey Writers, covering the Toronto Maple Leafs and heading the Draft and Prospects section. He has previously interned at The Hockey News and worked on Toronto Marlies broadcasts for Rogers TV. He currently is the co-host of the podcast Sticks in the 6ix and a frequent guest on Maple Leafs Lounge. Aside from hockey, he also enjoys drumming, animation and impressions/ voices.